She’s only 15, but Georgie Smithson-Brown already has a CV to rival that of many adults.
The East Yorkshire teenager was the winner of last year’s Golden Apron – the search for the county’s best young chef. As a result, she’s become something of a local celebrity, cooking at demonstrations, including at the Great Yorkshire Show, alongside such Yorkshire culinary luminaries as James Mackenzie and Stephanie Moon, and meeting heroes like James Martin and Rosemary Shrager. She’s written a column for a national newspaper. She’s even an experienced shepherdess – but more of that later.
Georgie was just 14 last spring when she won the title of Golden Apron in the competition organised by Mr Mackenzie, chef/owner of the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass Inn at South Dalton, near Beverley, the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School and farming company JSR, both based at Southburn, near Driffield. She beat off competition from young chefs across the region, some of them five years older than her and already at catering college or working in professional kitchens. The two other finalists were an 18-year-old from Wakefield who was at college, and a 15-year-old from Otley studying cookery and hospitality on day release.
Georgie recalls: “I nearly didn’t get my entry in on time – I was late, and my cookery teacher from Hornsea School, Liz Walker, had to run round to the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School to drop it off at the last minute. She’s been brilliant ever since; she’s been at all the demos I’ve done, and has been really supportive.”
The competition process was rigorous – during the heats, Georgie had to create and cook an original dish using local pork then cook a two-course dinner from Mr Mackenzie’s own recipes for a team of judges including James himself and JSR chairman Tim Rymer.
For the final, held at the Pipe and Glass, each of the three young chefs drew straws to decide which course they would cook for a gala dinner after spending a day in the restaurant’s kitchens developing their dishes. Georgie landed the starter, and served up a delicious and unusual dish of mackerel three ways – smoked mackerel fishcake with tartare sauce, a choux bun filled with smoked mackerel and horseradish pâté, and soused mackerel with cucumber and beetroot.
The 70 guests had no idea which chef had cooked which course, and voted on the dishes they had eaten. Georgie’s amazement when she was announced as winner was obvious.
The following day she arrived home from school to find the local press waiting for her. Within a week, she twice had appeared live on local radio – a challenge to which she rose with great aplomb – and had written an article about her experiences for First News, the weekly national newspaper for young people.
By the end of the year, Georgie had presented cookery demonstrations at the Great Yorkshire Show, the Driffield Show, the York Food and Drink Festival, the Hornsea Carnival and for a “Fish on Friday” event at Hornsea United Reform Church. She had worked alongside Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School chef Ali Bilton to cater for a JSR dinner, and, via Golden Apron sponsors Cranswick, done a work placement at Lazenby’s gourmet sausages in Hull.
She is talking with award-winning fish smoker Justin Staal about writing a blog for his website, and has had invaluable guidance and mentoring from James Mackenzie and Mark Richmond, the Leeds-based innovation development chef at this year’s sponsor, Asda. And, of course, she’s preparing for her GCSEs at the end of this school year…
And in the middle of all this whirlwind of activity, she and her family went on their annual holiday to the Isle of Lismore in the Inner Hebrides, where she was kept typically busy cooking her award-winning mackerel dish for the island’s one café, the Lios Beag Cafe; writing up her recipe (which was inspired by the area’s main catch) for the Oban Times; and looking after her small flock of sheep.
She explains: “My godparents used to live in Yorkshire, but now they farm sheep on the Isle of Lismore. They gave me three sheep for my birthday one year, and now I go up there every year to help with the lambing and sell my sheep at market.
“I can’t believe how much has happened to me since I won the Golden Apron. I didn’t expect to win – I’ve just always loved cooking, and have cooked since I was tiny with my grandma, Maisie. I’ve met such amazing people, and working in a professional kitchen alongside James was a fantastic experience.”
So will all this lead to a career in cookery? Well, the world seems to be Georgie’s oyster – her mother Liz says: “She’s often asked if she will follow a career in cooking, but she genuinely doesn’t have any one career path in mind as yet.
“I think that the last 18 months have given her the confidence to do anything she wants to do, and opened up so many doors to opportunities that she would otherwise not have considered. I strongly believe that whatever she does do in the future, it will link back to this time in some way.”
Mr Mackenzie says: “Georgie’s a superb chef; if she chooses a career in cooking, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the future.”
The deadline for entries for this year’s Golden Apron competition, open to young cooks aged from 14 to 19, and sponsored by Asda and Cranswick, is October 12. For further information and to enter go to www.thegoldenapron.co.uk